When the Auditor General asks for a list of equipment from a volunteer fire association it should be an easy request, but what if the numbers aren’t provided?

August 23 – Fire departments, police departments, EMTs, all have paperwork that needs to be completed, especially when those groups receive taxpayer money – there needs to be a way to track how that money is spent. 

So when a volunteer fire department association doesn’t provide the necessary inventory lists, what can be done? 

The borough of Waynesboro received notification from the department of the Auditor General that the latest compliance audit for the Waynesboro Firemen’s Relief Association has been completed. 

Waynesboro Borough Manager Jason Stains said, “This is not uncommon. These audits are routine things that go on. The last audit was completed in 2021 for the Waynesboro Firemen’s Relief Association, and we just received the results recently from the Auditor General. The borough of Waynesboro is concerned with the results of the Firemen’s Relief Association compliance audit this year, as they were following the 2021 audit.”

The Waynesboro Firemen’s Relief Association is a separate association that receives funding that passes through municipalities. In this case, Quincy Township, Washington Township and the Borough of Waynesboro received pass through money that goes to the Waynesboro Firemen’s Relief association.

Stains said, “This money comes through the Foreign Fire Insurance Tax Distribution law, which was part of Act 205, way back in 1984. So, the source of this money is a 2% tax on foreign fire insurance. What we mean by foreign fire insurance is that the company that writes the policy is not incorporated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. So they pay a 2% fee back to the Commonwealth and then this money is distributed to municipalities based on population and market value of the real estate for each municipality.”

Once the municipality receives the money from the Commonwealth, it must be passed to the relief association by law within 60 days.

Stains said, “We received the most recent audit and we’re disheartened that the relief association continues to demonstrate really an inability to administer state aid and accumulated relief funds and compliance with applicable state laws. A representative from the auditor general’s office comes in, they request financial documents, they request distribution of the funds and information where the money went and how it’s being invested. They’re allowed to invest it, that’s not an issue, but they have to keep track of where these things go and it has to be kept in a specific format that the auditor general’s office stipulates.”

The last time, the auditor general’s office found a number of issues and steps were taken by the relief association to fix them. 

Stains said, “Where we have a lot of concern is a reoccurring finding and the Auditor General pointed out that this is a reoccurring finding that they have concerned with, they’re not keeping an accurate ledger, not in terms of finances, but an accurate equipment roster. They’re required to maintain a complete and accurate equipment roster. I believe that’s the exact language from the Auditor General. When we address this in 2021, we received correspondence back from the Association on March 21st of that year and they stated that as of 21 March, the Waynesboro Volunteer Firemen’s Relief Association has completed a 100% inventory to label and verify any and all equipment owned by the Waynesboro Firemen’s Relief Association and records have been modified to be up to date.”

As of August of 2023, the inventory is a continued issue in the audits. 

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM asked, “So we’re not sure what kind of equipment we have, and how much money has been spent on this equipment? So we’re okay with the dollars, we might have spent it on equipment, but we can’t find the equipment, is that right?”

“It’s very vague,” Stains said. “We’re not sure where the equipment is. There’s not an accurate roster. There’s not an accurate listing by serial number. The last roster that we received from the department carries well over 200 members of the Volunteer Fire Company. How many are active? We’re not really sure, but to maintain an equipment list of what you’re purchasing, we get it, these are volunteer people in volunteer positions, but you should be able to follow what the auditor general’s telling you. I don’t think what they’re being asked to do is out of line.”

Information on the audit includes types of equipment purchased, the date of the purchase, the unit cost for the purchase, the names of the suppliers, serial numbers if applicable, the current locations of those items, any final dispositions (if equipment was sold or damaged) and then evidence and results of an annual physical inventory. 

The Auditor General has not specified a required date to get that list of the inventory. 

Stains said, “However, the borough is taking it a step further. We have sent them correspondence to voice our displeasure, dated August 21. We’ve demanded by August 31, that they provide us the list that was shown to the Auditor General, so we know, okay, this is where we started. This is our base, and this is where we’re going to work from. Then the borough has also demanded that within 30 days of the date of the letter, that they do a complete inventory of their equipment, their property that they own, and put it in a list in the manner that the auditor general specifies. The borough wants a copy of that on record. Our biggest concern is the fire chief has expressed concern with various tools and equipment necessary for operations that’s owned by the relief association, for use for volunteer firefighters. This stuff is unmaintained, broken or out of service. These are issues related to health, wellness and safety for the firefighters. I feel like this is being ignored because we are not communicated with to find out if yes, we’ve replaced that hose. Yes, we’ve replaced that broken thermal imager.”

Ryan suggested, “It would also seem like the Waynesboro Volunteer Firemen’s Relief Association, if you’re the pass through for state funding to get to them, why wouldn’t you just put the brakes on money until you get what you want?”

Stains said, “Well, the borough may choose to distribute the 2023 funds to another organization that provides emergency response to the citizens of the borough. We need to make sure that we have adequate coverage and adequate emergency service response when our residents need it. That’s the role and the responsibility of the borough and the municipality under law. We have to provide for emergency services.”

The pass through money in 2020 was more than $43,000; in 2021 it was $38,000; and in 2022 it was more than $50,000. 

Stains said, “You’re not buying an apparatus by any stretch of the imagination for that money. But we need to make sure that the tools and equipment for firefighters are being maintained, and that the organization responsible for doing so is doing their job.”

There is both a paid fire department and a volunteer fire department in Waynesboro. 

Stains said, “The volunteers receive the pass through money that comes through for the relief funds. They have a set of rules through the Auditor General and through the law, that Act from 1984. They can only spend the money on certain things. They can buy air packs, they can buy certain tools and equipment, they can provide some death benefits. They’re even legally allowed to take a stipend for holding an officer position within the relief association. For the most part, they’re operating within those bounds but the biggest issue is the lack of accountability for the tools and equipment that they’re purchasing with the money and they can’t prove to the Auditor General how that money was spent.”

The borough provides $5,000 from the fire tax to the volunteer fire company.

Stains said, “However, in addition to that we pay for all of the fuel for the apparatus that they operate. We currently are providing for 99% of the repairs to apparatus owned by the Volunteer Fire Company. Maybe 99% is low. Rescue Engine 2 which is owned by the volunteers, they recently put a significant amount of money into an engine. So we will acknowledge that. We cover insurance for the volunteers. We pay for ladder tests annually. We pay for those tests annually. We pay for the aerial ladder test to be inspected on the ladder truck that’s owned by the volunteer fire department. So for the Volunteer Fire Company to state that we only provide them with $5,000 total, I disagree with that, for all of the other services that we provide and maintain apparatus that they own. That’s in addition to the apparatus owned by the borough.”

The report from the Auditor General is a public document and can be found at www.paauditor.gov

Stains said, “This is money that taxpayers provide. This isn’t just a gift. The people of the Commonwealth received this money and they are trusting these relief associations to operate within the framework prescribed by law. We’re not accusing them of doing anything illegal, but you should be able to maintain an accurate record of what your equipment is, and where it’s located, and who you purchased it from, and how much you paid for those things. It’s a volunteer organization, and we recognize that and it’s not like they’re all paid, and this is their job. So they have families and they have careers, but they also choose to do this volunteer gig and with that comes this responsibility.”

The borough has spots for six career paid firefighter EMTs and a full time paid fire chief. 

Stains said, “We currently have one opening. But other than that, we rely on one volunteer fire service, from this community, from surrounding communities to service the needs of the residents of the borough Waynesboro.”